Forests provide habitat and shelter for myriad species. Linking forest habitats has proven vital for conserving their biodiversity. NCC

Forests provide habitat and shelter for myriad species. Linking forest habitats has proven vital for conserving their biodiversity. NCC

Humans aren’t the only creatures on Earth that need to get around. Animals in the wild have to travel as well, some to migrate, some to hunt and others to find mates. And that’s just one of the reasons that the Frontenac Arch – a 50-kilometre-long extension of exposed Precambrian rock that runs through southeastern Ontario and upstate New York from Westport to the Thousand Islands – is so important.

This unique area of biogeographic overlap between the mixed forests of the Canadian Shield and deciduous forests of southern Ontario influences an incredible diversity of rare species, including common musk turtle and cerulean warbler. The Arch also serves as a natural link for wildlife travelling between the Adirondacks in the United States and the forests of the Algonquin Highlands in Canada. 

“It’s their intercontinental highway,” says Gary Bell, program director, Eastern Ontario for the Nature Conservancy of Canada (NCC), who has been working to better understand and protect this vital link. 

Fragmentation poses the biggest threat to natural corridors such as the Arch and their inhabitants. Roads, power line access trails, housing developments and other forms of development carve the forests into ever-smaller parcels, isolating and – in many cases – putting the species that use the area at risk. 

In co-operation with partners like the Algonquin to Adirondacks Collaborative (A2A), NCC is identifying the best remaining big blocks of forest and working to keep them together so that animals can travel freely between them. “The idea is to make the connections between the blocks of forest as small as possible,” says Mr. Bell.

The partnership with A2A has been crucial, he adds. While NCC has been focusing on the Frontenac Arch here in Canada, A2A has been doing similar work in the United States, but on a much grander scale. 

“They mapped everything that had been conserved here in the past and studied the gaps in between so that we now have a detailed understanding of the connectivity in the entire region,” says Mr. Bell. Once the pieces are identified, NCC works to secure the land parcels so they can remain in their natural state. “Most will be managed in the long term as nature reserves, and almost all are open to recreation.”

Already, many species long thought lost are making a comeback, including the fisher, a small forest mammal. 

It and an extraordinary variety of salamanders, frogs and toads, snakes, and Ontario’s only lizard, the five-lined skink, stand a better chance of survival if the forest highway remains open.